Gunks epic

Our first trip to the Gunks in September '06 ended up being more ... shall we say "exciting" than we had hoped for. This was our first big multi-pitch trad climb, and in an unfamiliar area. Getting a late start didn't help one bit. After that weekend I wrote up a trip report (and forgot about it until now). We learned a lot from the experience.

Saturday morning, packed up the car, drove out to the Gunks

New Paltz is much bigger than we expected it to be. There's a SUNY there (saw a bumper sticker). Tons of restaurants, could be a cool place to hang out for a week.

Stopped at the Mohonk visitor center, had a little sticker shock. $15 wristbands, per person, per day to climb, so it would be $60 for the weekend. A year pass for the both of us was $125.

Parked at Wawarsing, started hiking towards where we thought the cliffs were without our gear, just to check things out. Just out of the parking lot we ran into some climbers who were done for the day. The guy offered to give us his climbing day pass. Hiked a little farther, then decided to go back for our gear since we knew we were going the right way.

Good thing we did, because the East Trapps trail is strenuous. Felt like 20 flights of steep stairs. Nice trail work, lots of rock steps. Saw lots of Millipedes (Narceus annularis). Kinda creepy. Finally got to the Undercliff trail. Sheepish ranger checked our passes.

So we're on the trail, it's a nice wide path. Lots of trails that go up to the rock. We had no idea where we were, so we headed straight up for the rock. Figured that we could identify something on the rock or ask someone.

Well, it's a good thing we ran into people. The Trapps is like three miles wide. I started at the beginning of the book, since I thought we were at the beginning of the rock. Nope. More like the middle of the rock, somewhere around climb #200 (out of something like 450 on this section of rock). Lots of climbs and not all crammed together either. Very different from what we're used to where there's a new climb every 5-10 feet. This was more like every 20-50 feet.

So we headed for a climb called Beginner's Delight. While we were looking for it we ran into some other people who were also looking for it. They were familiar with the area and offered to help us find a climb.

Well, none of us got to climb Beginner's Delight because someone already was. So the nice people offered to show us some other nice easy climbs. We ended up on Minty, they were on ???.

It was probably around 4pm at this point. We started to gear up for Minty, and maybe had gotten partway up when the nice people came by to say that their climb was too wet to bother with. They must have moved on to something else because we didn't see them again.

I led the first pitch of Minty up to a ledge. The going was a little wet, but it was easy climbing with positive holds. I remember thinking about how long the pitch was (120' maybe?) and kept on trying to find good nut placements so I could save the cams for later if I really needed them. I did ok, still had a variety of gear by the time I got to the belay ledge.

At the left end of the ledge was a little tree that had some slings and rap rings. Very little wretched tree, rotten, sticking out of a crack in the rock. Nothing I would want to rappel off of! The rings were aluminum, not the nice hefty steel ones we see at Rumney. These had all the quality of a soda can. Our carabiners are aluminum too, but these rings were very lightweight, didn't have a nice clink to them, and were probably only 1/4" diameter stock (perhaps hollow!).

So I didn't use the tree in the anchor. Set up a few nuts or cams, gave myself a short tether and belayed directly off the anchor. I had a pretty comfortable seat on a rock next to the scary rappel tree.

Laurel followed up and cleaned the gear. She didn't want to lead the next pitch, so we restacked the rope and I took gear from her one piece at a time. That took some time.

It was time for me to start leading the next pitch. The anchor was multidirectional (cams / good multidirectional nut placement), but I still thought it might be a good idea to have an opposition piece in, just in case I took a big fall and pulled Laurel off her feet, so I ran a sling from the tree to the anchor power point.

OK, so I looked the tree over again and decided it was probably good enough for the forces we'd be putting on it. Still, I tried to imagine how that tree would look dangling from the anchor, it made me laugh.

So starting up the second pitch... I didn't have the book with me, and neither of us could remember much of what it said about the pitch. We knew at one point it said to climb out left onto the face, but was that at this ledge or the next one? Straight up looked like it was easy enough, until the roof above, which the book didn't say anything about.

So I headed out left and traversed 10 or 20 feet as I went up. It just didn't seem quite right, but I couldn't see anywhere else that the climb would go.

At one point I was over pretty far and realized that there was another party below starting a climb. I wasn't really sure what they were up to, where their climb was going, etc. I knew that there were no other easy routes around where we were climbing, so I figured that their route must head left as well, and that pretty soon they wouldn't be below me any more. I looked at them a few times, they looked at me, and we both climbed on.

I climbed up to a flake hanging off the face. It looked like a frosted flake magnified 50 times and only attached on one or two sides. There was a hole in it. It had lots of quartz crystals (frosting). I think I could have broken the whole thing off with a weak punch or a dirty look. Well, when I got home I found this on the internet in someone's description of Minty: "A hole in a flake here provides some unique pro." I hope that was a joke!

I got to the second belay station. As I belayed Laurel up the second pitch I kept an eye on the progress of the shadow of the cliff across the forest below. It seemed like we would have enough daylight, but probably wouldn't get to do the final pitch of the climb.

When she was halfway up the second pitch, and climbing above the party below, we heard them start hollering. We weren't sure at first if they were yelling at us or someone else. Eventually we could understand: "There are people below you." / "Yes, we see you." / "You're raining shit down on us." / "Sorry!" I told Laurel to be more careful, but I couldn't imagine what she could have been kicking down. The climb was pretty clean, aside from the wet spots, no loose rock. Eventually I realized it must have been the rope drag knocking flecks of lichen and pebbles off the face.

Well, I overestimated the amount of daylight remaining. By the time Laurel got to the belay ledge it was dusk. We set up the rappel. This tree was much much sturdier, had good looking slings around it, had two of those crappy looking aluminum rap rings but also a steel quicklink. That made me feel better about it.

The middle marker on the rope was still there and it was light enough that we could see it. I threw the ropes, trying to aim for a more sturdy tree than the manky looking one by the first belay station. It was going to be a diagonal rappel, so I tried to throw the rope sideways to clear some vegetation.

Sure enough, my toss was crap and the rope ended up in a small tree. So I started pulling it back up. Most of it came up, got one end back up on the ledge. The other end was knotted in the tree. No amount of pulling was going to free it without ripping the tree from the rock. So I lowered the rest of the rope straight down.

I rapped down to the tree and weighted my backup prussik. I couldn't quite reach where the rope had tangled on the tree, so I hauled the rest of that end of the rope up until I could pull the tree branch towards me with the rope. It was still somewhat precarious, but I managed to unknot the rope.

A knife would have been a good thing to have as a last resort, but I wonder if I would have been too eager to cut off the last foot or two of rope instead of trying to unkot it.

I lowered both ends of the rope over the other side of the tree and continued the rappel. It was somewhat tricky going diagonally but I managed to get to the next tree. Water was pouring down the face behind this tree and splashing up on me, it felt like it was raining. Needless to say, my anchor to the tree was soaked and I was getting soaked too.

I kept my belay device engaged while Laurel rapped down in order to draw her towards the tree. It seemed to work, but I had to give her some extra slack at the end so she could lower down to the ledge.

At that point it was definitely getting dark. We had enough light to see that we had a rope in our hands, and could see the pattern on it, but there was very little chance we were going to see the middle marker, if it was even still there. I had seen it peeling off earlier in the day.

I untied the stopper knots and fed one end of the rope through the next set of rap rings. Tied the stopper knot back in that end and started pulling rope through. In hindsight it would have been good to tie the rope into the anchor before pulling it completely from the top rappel station, but the stopper knot I tied was big enough not to pull through the rap rings so I wasn't too worried.

We got lucky and the rope came right down to the ledge. Tied stopper knot in the other end. Since we hadn't seen the middle marker and didn't expect to, I grabbed both ends and fed rope through my hands until I got to the middle, made sure that was at the rap rings. The ends were clove hitched to my harness. From this point the rappel was straightforward, just straight down a slab. I either snaked the ropes down or tossed them half and half.

Laurel was pretty excited to rappel first and get to the ground, so I let her. It was reassuring to see her headlight click on when she got to the bottom and dug it out of the pack. Definitely should have taken them with us, but at 4pm it just didn't occur to us.

I rappelled down, pulled the rope, packed up and hiked out. It was 8pm when we left the base of the cliff. Soon after we were back on the Undercliff road. I called John to let him know we were safe and he didn't need to call in a rescue party after us.

Since it was so dark we decided not to take the East Trapps connector trail. I remembered from a trail map that the cliff roads met near the highway, so we hiked out that way until we got to route 44/55, then hiked back on the road to the parking lot. It was around 8:30 then

Next time:
  • bring book up climb
  • bring headlamps
  • bring phone charger to charge overnight
  • maybe turn phone off while climbing to save battery
  • bring water on harness
  • know when it gets dark, know what time it is, know how long pitches take to lead, follow, rappel, etc.
  • leave Friday night for the Gunks instead of Saturday morning